When I previewed the Cowboys over the summer, I wrote that Mike Gundy‘s team was destined to play a major role in the playoff hunt regardless of whether it even turned out to be any good, because TCU, Baylor, and Bedlam archrival Oklahoma all were coming to visit Stillwater this year.
I didn’t anticipate that through ten weeks, the Cowboys would be 10-0 and control their own destiny to win the Big 12. Sorry I doubted you, Oklahoma State.
The Baylor Bears, on the other hand, had every eye in the college football nation upon them. The Bears knew a weak nonconference schedule was doing them no favors but was likely to be favored in every game. And until last week, it was all going according to plan . . . until the 9-1 Oklahoma Sooners dealt them their first loss at McLane Stadium.
Watch the quarterbacks . . . all three of them
Typically mention of a two-quarterback system would conjure up images of struggling offenses desperate for an edge and defenses that know whether to stuff the box or sit back in coverage depending on which guy is in . . . but not at Oklahoma State, where Mason Rudolph and J.W. Walsh have developed a one-two punch that has been instrumental to their undefeated record.
In lieu of a rushing game (the non-Walsh Cowboys average 4.53 yards per carry, 118th in Rushing S&P+) the Cowboys instead put Walsh in for a few snaps and he usually makes hay. In the 70-53 air show against Texas Tech, Walsh carried eight times for 80 yards and a game-clinching score. Against Iowa State, mostly the same: 12 carries (a season high) for just 28 yards . . . but two critical scores.
The difference is that he can also throw pretty well. On just 28 attempts, Walsh has thrown for 335 yards and ten scores while completing passes at a 78.6% clip. The Cowboys have figured out how to manage a two-quarterback rotation while not telegraphing their plays, and it’s making a difference.
On the Bears side, Jarrett Stidham has handled the bright lights about as well as you’d hope a freshman would, but struggled in the rain against Oklahoma. He can still make all the throws Briles needs him to make, and he’s still insanely accurate. But the Sooners made life difficult for him by blanketing Corey Coleman. I’m skeptical that the Cowboys’ defense, while plenty talented (24th in Passing S&P+) can lock him down the way Oklahoma did.
Can Oklahoma State counterpunch again?
Twice now the Cowboys have allowed themselves to get down early: against Texas Tech and Iowa State, the Pokes trailed 31-14 and 24-7 early in the second quarter before battling back to pull out a win.
Baylor’s offense, owing mainly to its speed, is insanely good in the first quarter. A lackadaisical start for Oklahoma State could result in a larger deficit than 17 points, and the Bears have Shock Linwood, meaning they can sit on a lead better than the Red Raiders or Cyclones could.
One potential difference: this game is in Stillwater. Both those slow starts came on the road, and two weeks ago the Cowboys jumped on the TCU Horned Frogs early and never slowed down. But Baylor can score pretty fast, and leads the nation in explosiveness, efficiency, and finishing drives. Get behind and it will be hard to catch up.
He who makes a stop wins
The Cowboys already beat one high-octane offense this year. They forced an elite quarterback into mistakes and were efficient on offense. They are varied and dynamic on offense and play just enough defense to win games.
You could sell me on Baylor, however, especially if Oklahoma State starts slow and Baylor plays with a chip on its shoulder. Since 2010 the Bears’ trips to Stillwater have not been fortuitous (49-17, 59-24, and 55-28 losses) but they also bring in a complete team that shouldn’t be intimidated by the big stage. Like so many Big 12 games, either the team with a defense which shows up and makes big plays will come out on top . . . or the team with the ball last.